Swimming Through CF

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Barbara Harison
Barbara swimming

Here I am at 68 years old, living with cystic fibrosis (CF) and writing a piece for a blog! It is a long story; but were it not for my regular lap swimming for 40 years, I wouldn’t be alive, healthy, and keyboarding for the CFLF Blog. My CF was not diagnosed until I was 64 years old; I knew I was a carrier, as I lost a sister to CF in 1971 when she was 21 years old. As I aged I had lots of lung problems and at some point doctors told me I was likely a carrier with symptoms.

So life goes on and one adapts to reduced lung capacity and frequent pneumonia.  The diagnosis was actually a blessing as I now have the benefit of latest CF treatments.  I have always been active but swimming is my favorite recreation. As it turns out it was my treatment. Drawn to water and beaches all my life, I am fortunate to live on the Pacific Coast in Ventura, CA and get the added benefit of moist salt air on beach walks.

Warm Springs GA - 1950

All my life I have appreciated the importance of exercise and fitness and worked a full career as a parks and recreation professional and consultant. The aquatic spirit came from my mother. My mom taught me how to swim at the Warm Springs, GA therapy pool. Mom was a polio survivor and treated at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. Swimming was physical therapy for polio patients. Although disabled she lived a full life and was swimming any chance she could get. 

Mom was a model of adaptation. She never let obstacles stop her from living life. She taught us all that when you get knocked down you pick yourself up and get on with life. Those of us living with CF learn to adapt to treatments, hospitalizations, loss of sleep and many other inconveniences. For me swimming has helped me live strong and keep my head above water, even “troubled waters.”

Swimming is not only exercise and rhythmic breathing; it provides a womb-like protection from the outside world offering a mental peace. It is energizing; tones the mind, body and brings joy to the emotions. Lest I forget: it opens the airways and makes me cough. Beats the Vest treatment any day of the week! To swim is to live and without it I know my mental and physical health would deteriorate. Another benefit for someone of my age is that swimming keeps the body limber and agile. I have none of the arthritic aches and pains that many of my age experience.

As my mom adapted to life with braces, crutches and wheelchair, she still lived strong. She lost a child to CF and still carried on. I lost a sister but kept on swimming, watching the sun rise and remembering both of them every day. Facing the challenges of life with CF requires adaptation; an active lifestyle is fundamental to thriving not just surviving.  Living Stronger! Living Longer!



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